“The reverse schadenfreude of FOMO (the pain we may feel from others having good fortune) and the insatiable yet unreachable need for everything to be fine, conspire to make us distracted, unhappy, and most of all, somewhere else.”
Seth Godin (American Author, Tribes)
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the 100 other good ideas that there are.”
Steve Jobs (American Entrepreneur)
“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.
Leonardo Da Vinci (Renaissance Artist, Inventor, Mathematician)
Being a successful leader means learning to say “no” and learning to quit after saying “yes”.
You heard that right.
It won’t be after you read this.
Look — focus is everything.
Every successful leader agrees.
Saying “yes” to everything creates competing interests and distraction.
It pulls you out of focus.
Enter confusion, distractibility, and a loss of productivity.
Bottom line… you start wasting time.
To be successful, you not only have to protect your focus, you have to guard your time.
You have to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, what everyone else is thinking, and be specific and selective.
Otherwise, you risk expending a lot of time and energy going nowhere and doing nothing to advance your goals.
Saying “no” to the wrong people, the wrong events, and the wrong business opportunities is just part of it.
Knowing when to pull out and quit altogether, when something veers off into the wrong direction, is a skill in boundaries and boldness.
And, both have risks.
People don’t like it when you set boundaries to protect your time.
It makes them feel insecure when you don’t join the herd.
The backlash to saying “no” means you can be judged and rejected.
It’s easier to be a follower and just say “yes” to keep everyone happy.
That is, as long as you’re okay with sacrificing what you really want in life.
Why Successful Leaders Must Learn To Say “No”
Saying “yes” is easy. You do what everyone else does and everyone gives you praise for it — or at least acceptance.
It’s part of social bonding.
But saying “yes” when you need to set boundaries around your time and energy for the pursuit of your purpose creates conflict.
People often struggle to say “no” because of the insecurities that arise from a sense of missing out on something, or being rejected.
A fear of missing out… or FOMO.
FOMO is just a “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality, with social media as its accelerant.
FOMO makes you say “yes” when you should say “no”.
Welcome to the herd, little sheep.
This unconscious assimilation is easier than the pain of saying “no” and missing out on some fantasy of a collective experience.
It’s easier than the discomfort of being the outlier.
FOMO is not only about what you think you’re missing out on, it often connects with worrying about what other people think of you if you don’t join in.
And then, it locks you in for the long haul.
A trend report published by JW Intelligence in the Harvard Business Review showed that up to 70% of adults experience FOMO.
The combination of insecurity and envy that FOMO creates incites a compulsion to say “yes” to everything.
And anxiety at the thought of saying “no”.
Another report commissioned by Citizen Relations found that the main areas of FOMO are travel (59%), parties and events (56%), and food (29%) — and the main driver is social media comparisons (primarily Facebook).
The impacts, according to this study, include feelings of envy (39%), jealousy (30%), and sadness or disappointment (21%).
The emotional pain drives a “yes” when you really should say “no” to the focus traps FOMO promotes.
FOMO infects business decisions as well.
Successful leaders, who naturally want to say “yes” to every good idea, also face the challenge to say “no” — even to good ideas.
According to an article in Training Journal, “The biggest challenge facing leaders… is saying no to a lot of good ideas. It may even mean rejecting some great ideas — something that’s counterintuitive for a leader and hard to accept. However, all the evidence shows that nothing is a bigger destroyer of focus than always saying yes.”
It may seem equally counterintuitive to quit once you’ve already said “yes”.
But continuing on in a direction that is the wrong one, just because you’ve committed to it, is just as disastrous.
Many people fall into the trap of “sunk cost fallacy” — where they persist in the wrong direction because they’ve already invested so much into it.
Kellogg Institute discusses sunk cost fallacy as a cognitive bias where people will justify their continuation with a commitment that no longer serves them because of the time, energy, and money already invested and not wanting to call out that investment as a waste.
This resistance to quit, even when all indicators say you should, is a recipe for regret, as perseverance alone will not salvage a bad project (or relationship, for that matter).
Whatever you have committed to, you get to re-evaluate on a continuous basis to see how it’s either moving you to or from your goals.
At any time, you can (and should) pull the plug on anything you’ve said “yes” to that isn’t working out and not look back.
Two Opt-Out Strategies To Protect Your Focus
You can’t reach your goals unless you’re focused.
You can’t reach your goals if you’re allowing your choices to be influenced by others (and you still care about what people think).
You can’t reach your goals if you’re saying “yes” to every invitation (because it makes you feel important).
You’re going nowhere fast… but you feel well-liked in the process.
Your lack of tolerance for the discomfort of missing out is a sabotaging agent for your future goals.
Your lack of discipline in discerning what to say “yes” to will make you easy to manipulate.
The truth is, leaders use discernment as they protect their focus in what they commit to, and how long they stay committed to it.
Here are 2 strategies for when you need to say “no” (and when you need to quit altogether)…
1. Say “no” first.
You must learn to be okay with missing out on events.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a party or a business event — if it doesn’t support your high priority goals, it’s a “no.”
And, it’s not going to feel good.
Feeling like you are about to miss out on something is painful.
Your mind hates pain.
So, when someone invites you to party or asks you to work late, or tells you about a million dollar idea, your mind will feel the urge to jump at this “opportunity”.
You’ll want to say “yes” to make everyone happy — or because you feel obligated.
You must ignore this urge.
The only person you are obligated to is yourself.
Worrying about what others think of you and letting it control your decisions is a mistake.
You’ll only feel resentment in the end.
And, it won’t make you feel better about yourself or the time you’ve wasted.
Build up a resistance to the urge to accommodate by practicing saying “no” to everything first.
Even when it’s uncomfortable.
The world isn’t going to end.
You aren’t going to miss out.
You don’t need a long explanation — it’s not a discussion.
“No” is a complete sentence.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have only one chance to say “yes” to things.
In most cases, you can say “no” to an opportunity at first and say “yes” later.
Learn to be okay when you don’t follow the crowd.
Learn to own your future by being disciplined with your time.
Learn to be selective about what you say “yes” to, measuring every choice against whether it moves you towards your goals.
Sift every event, opportunity, and request through a filter that separates out distractions.
Prioritize what matters to you and be disciplined enough to set boundaries around the investment of your time and energy with a strong “no”.
2. Be selectively accountable.
In other words, don’t allow yourself to be locked into anything.
Even if you said “yes” to it before.
Yes, it’s important to be accountable to your commitments.
But not all commitments must last forever.
If you change your mind or grow out of a commitment, don’t be afraid to talk about it openly and find a better way forward.
In some cases, the best way to move forward is to quit.
Some “yeses” turn out to be very bad decisions.
When this happens, take responsibility for your failure, learn from it, and move on.
The best way to avoid making bad commitments is to stop being afraid of letting other people down.
Stop worrying about how people are going to react and start worrying about taking care of yourself.
You get to come first.
No one else has to live your life — or trudge through your commitments.
You are entitled to be selectively accountable.
You get to change your mind — without apology.
If you’re in and it doesn’t feel right, get out and move on.
Don’t let your mind twist a bad deal into a good one just because you’ve invested time into something.
It’s not going to change just because you can’t cut your losses and settle your ego.
Knowing when it’s time to quit is radical wisdom.
It means you know what outcomes you want and if this isn’t going to give them to you, you’re not going to waste any more time on it.
Walking away gracefully is a measure of being truly aligned with your goals.
If someone wants you to commit to something but it doesn’t feel right in your gut, say “no.”
Quit worrying about other people being able to count on you for everything.
You were not meant to be a punching bag for other people’s agendas.
Being a successful leader means learning to say “no” and learning to quit after saying “yes”. Leaders learn how to be selective in saying “yes” only to things that support or further their goals. Reconnect with your top priorities and your overall purpose. Set boundaries and don’t let FOMO distract you. Be selectively accountable to your commitments and don’t be afraid to pull the plug on anything that doesn’t serve what you need for your future. Saying “no” now can protect you from regret and wasting time later.
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